‘We’re worried we’re going to get flooded again’: Mill Woods residents wait for drainage work to finish

CBC Edmonton is setting up a pop-up newsroom at the Mill Woods Public Library for the week of Sept. 10-14. We’ll be exploring stories and perspectives from one of Edmonton’s oldest communities, and will be broadcasting live from the library on Sept. 14. Have a story to pitch? Come say hi!

Mill Woods homeowner Carmen Messer is on pins and needles every time it rains.

The Tweddle Place homeowner’s basement has flooded three times in the 22 years she’s lived in her home. The last time was in 2012.

She waits for ongoing improvements to the drainage system in the area to be completed. 

“We’re worried we’re going to get flooded again until all the construction is done in our area,” she said.

She lives less than two kilometres away from the ongoing 91st Street construction where a dry pond expansion and storm sewer upgrades are being done.

Upgrades to the drainage system are happening at the same time plans for two new towers of up to 320 units in the Tweddle Place area move ahead. 

Messer is one of several homeowners in the area anxiously waiting for the drainage construction to be completed.

But many homeowners, like Messer, aren’t confident the upgrades will work.

They’ve been told similar assurances in the past, said homeowner Kathy Brower.

Brower’s home, like many in the neighbourhood, suffered substantial damage from the 2012 floods that were deemed a once-in-100-years type of storm.

Kathy Brower’s home (pictured) was affected by the 2012 floods that hit many homes in Tweddle Place.

More than 1,200 basements flooded from the pelting rains that came down in 2012. In 2004, the Milbourne area had more than 4,000 basements flooded with water.

Coun. Mike Nickel, who represents the area, said he’s heard from several homeowners who share Brower’s concerns about the upgrades.

“They’ve been burned a couple of times. Why should they expect anything different?” he said.

New developments

As drainage work continues, homeowners are fighting to get guarantees new housing developments won’t put additional strain on the area’s drainage system.

Volunteers on the Milbourne Flood Protection Task Force said they’ve been guaranteed by the city that the area’s drainage system will be able to handle two 12-storey towers that will have up to 320 units.

But some are concerned they will only know when all improvements are done. 

“With every development, sewage capacity has a limit,” said task force member Leigh Makarewicz​ of the growing demand on the area’s drainage system.

The Tweddle Place rezoning will have up to 320 units in two 12-storey buildings. (City of Edmonton)

The future development on Milbourne Road West between 76th Street and 79th Street was approved by city council last year.

She said residents also pushed the city to reconsider infill plans in the Michaels Park area. The area, which has had flooding in the past, was a potential area for housing development as part of the First Place Home Ownership program.

The program aims to “develop attractive townhouses on land declared surplus by school boards in conjunction with an extensive public information and engagement process,” according to the program’s website.

After months of conversations with the city, residents convinced the city to move the Michaels Park area down the program’s priority development list, said Makarewicz​.

“We’re making sure that all of these projects work, because we have a lot of projects going on around North Milbourne area: LRT, infill, new homebuyers and drainage. It’s a lot for one small area to take,” she said.

Ongoing construction 

EPCOR took over the drainage work contract from the city last year and has been continuing the work in the Mill Woods area.

Storm pipe installation, expanding the Tweddle Place dry pond and adding new manholes are all part of the ongoing work near 91st Street, said a spokesperson.

The drainage project is set to be finished by Nov. 2021, according to EPCOR’s latest timeline provided to CBC News.

Amarjeet Sohi recalls the work that had to be done to the city’s drainage system after Mill Woods flooded in 2012. 0:48

The final stage of the improvements includes upgrades to storm and sanitary sewers on 42A Avenue between 89th Street and Milbourne Road West to “reduce the risk of street and basement flooding during heavy rainfall events,” according to an emailed statement from EPCOR.

Drainage construction work on 91st Street is ongoing.

The drainage upgrades in the area are set to be completed in 2021, after the Valley Line LRT opens for service.

As the construction continues, Brower said people are anxiously awaiting for the end of the construction. And to see if it will work when put to the test.

“It’s been super stressful for everybody. Financial wise, mental health wise and even as a community.”

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